More and more, daily decisions are made less by responsible citizens than by nanny-state government, especially powerful, unelected, unaccountable executive branch agencies in Washington. Among the worst is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Under Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, EPA seeks not merely to regulate, but to legislate; not merely to protect our health and environment against every conceivable risk, however far-fetched, but to control every facet of our economy, livelihoods and lives.
Instead of following laws and policies set by our elected representatives, EPA is determined to impose regulatory edicts that reflect President Obama's promises to "bankrupt" coal and utility companies and "radically transform" our economy, society and free-enterprise system.
The agency's actions make it increasingly expensive to fill gas tanks, heat and cool homes and offices, operate hospitals and factories, and buy food and consumer goods. EPA now is better described as the "Employment Prevention Agency," with $100 billion diktats that are killing countless jobs, making America more dependent on foreign sources of energy and raw materials that we have in abundance right here at home, and endangering our economy, national security and people's health and welfare.
Mrs. Jackson's agenda seeks to relegate fossil fuels to the dustbin of history and force America to get its energy from intermittent "renewable" sources, not when they are needed but when they are available. Regulations on "greenhouse gases" and other emissions are to make non-hydrocarbon energy appear cheaper by comparison, paving the way for crony-corporatist "alternatives" like wind, solar and ethanol.
Only rarely have our courts delayed or blocked EPA's worst excesses. In one recent case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected EPA's "cross-state" air pollution rule, which would have controlled power plant emissions on the grounds that computer models predict pollutants might harm families hundreds of miles away.
In far too many other cases, EPA has been allowed to regulate as it sees fit. A key pretext is the 1970 Clean Air Act, as amended by Congress in 1977 and 1990. The act deals primarily with six common pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, particulates (soot), ozone, lead and carbon monoxide. It never mentions carbon dioxide, the plant-fertilizing gas essential for all life.
As EPA itself acknowledges, those six "criteria" air pollutants declined by an average of 63 percent between 1970 and 2010. They will continue to do so under existing regulations and technologies. Moreover, those dramatic reductions occurred even as coal-based electricity generation increased 180 percent, overall U.S. energy consumption rose 40 percent, miles traveled soared 168 percent and the nation's population increased by 110 million. Regardless, EPA intends to go much further to advance its radical agenda.
Ignoring solar and other natural factors, EPA ruled that carbon dioxide is a "pollutant" that contributes to "dangerous" global warming and must be strictly regulated. Since hydrocarbons provide 85 percent of the energy used to power America, this single ruling gave EPA effective control over our transportation, manufacturing, heating, cooling, communications and virtually the entire economy.
To ensure that coal really is excised from our energy mix, EPA also issued oppressive new rules on other emissions. Its mercury rule is based on computer-generated risks to hypothetical American women who eat 300 pounds of fish a year that they catch themselves, a determination to prevent a theoretical reduction in IQ test scores by "0.00209 points" and a refusal to recognize that coal-fired power plants contribute just 3 percent of the total mercury deposited in American watersheds, and thus in fish tissue.
EPA's new PM2.5 soot standard (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is equivalent to having one ounce of super-fine dust spread equally in a volume of air one half-mile long, one half-mile wide and one story tall. To underscore its claim that soot is toxic, the agency illegally subjected human beings to laboratory tests, exposing them to what Mrs. Jackson testified are dangerous, even lethal levels of fine particulates. When the lab results failed to support its claims, EPA tried to mothball the illicit study.
To further justify its draconian decisions, EPA grossly overstates the economic benefits of its rules -- insisting that each "premature death" theoretically avoided creates $9 million in hypothetical societal economic gains, whether the assumed "person" is a newborn or an 85-year-old in hospice care. It then pays activist groups millions of taxpayer dollars annually to promote and applaud its farfetched claims and rogue actions.
But EPA rules cost jobs, thereby increasing the risk of depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, alcohol, spousal and child abuse and premature death among the involuntarily unemployed. They also raise the cost of food, electricity, heating, air conditioning, commuting, health care and other necessities, further reducing living standards, civil rights progress and environmental justice -- especially for poor, elderly and minority families. However, EPA ignores these vital components of human health and welfare.
Rarely has one election meant so much -- or has one agency asserted so much control over our lives, livelihoods and freedoms. The 2012 elections will determine whether America once again enjoys a new birth of freedom or continues to suffer under an EPA that enslaves and impoverishes us rather than protects us.
Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of "Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death" (Merril Press, 2010).